By Brandon Richey
I would say that the average gym goer is missing quite a few things in general when it comes to building muscle and strength.
Regardless of your goals, strength is at the foundation of everything. If your goal is to build a lot of strength then you need a baseline of strength in order to do that.
If your goal is to build a lot of muscular size then you also need a baseline of strength to start the process of moving toward that goal as well.
Strength comes before everything, but when it comes to building it I think the average gym goer misses out on the following elements that go into building it.
Lack of Foundational Strength for Building a Strong Body
How many strict form push-ups can you do for a single max effort set? If your answer is barely one, or zero then you need to work on changing that.
If you can’t do a single push-up, or lack the ability to perform a push-up with strict technique then you are lacking in baseline of strength.
As a general rule of thumb it’s a good idea to be able to handle your own body resistance, or a portion of your own resistance with confidence and control.
Think about it. There is a very good reason why the military, fight gyms, and pretty much every box gym on the globe utilizes the almighty push-up into a regular part of the training routine. If you expect to start making gains in strength and muscular size you need to learn to do push-ups.
If you aren’t sure about how to go about progressing your push-ups and currently have a difficult time performing them then here are a few tips you can implement.
1. Weight distribution: Redistribute your weight to assist you in the movement. For instance, if you have trouble performing a push-up on the ground try elevating your hands by doing them off the side of a bench. By doing this, you’re redistributing your bodyweight placing more of it at your feet and taking more off your arms.
2. Max tension planks: One way to build core stability to help you in your attempt to improve your push-ups is perform planks. However, one way I like to have my students do these is by emphasizing creating as much muscular tension as possible rather than planking for minutes at a time. Try doing 30 second intervals of planks creating as much body tension as you can during the plank to maintain rigidity and tightness throughout your body during the exercise.
3. Slow your descent: Another way to build up your strength in the push-up is to slow your descent as you lower yourself towards the ground during the push-up movement. The lowering portion of the movement is the eccentric phase (the negative) involving the muscles’ contraction. This portion of the movement actually places the greatest amount of stress on the muscle to build more strength. Try counting down from 5 as you lower yourself into the base of the push-up.
Lack of Functional Mobility and Proficiency in Form
The image above shows tip-top, tournament-level form. But one common issue I’ve observed over the years with many average gym goers is they aren’t familiar with proper lifting technique when it comes performing some foundational movements and lifts in the gym.
Poor lifting technique can be a result of a couple of factors. One is just the lack of knowledge and experience in order to perform the movement and the other is because of a lack of function due to a restriction in mobility resulting in poor movement.
If we’re talking about these elements concerning technique and function then many gym goers lack this knowledge because they haven’t been properly coached on how to perform fundamental movements with good technique and with proper movement function.
For example, squats are an important foundational movement. In order to perform just a bodyweight squat you must be able to hinge at your hips to descend into the base of the squat without rounding your back, or falling backwards at the base of the movement due to instability.
So if you need help on improving your squat technique, try these steps.
1. Practice squatting to a bench or platform: If you have trouble with your squat range of motion then set up a bench, or some kind of sturdy platform behind you at about knee level. From here try to descend into your squat to touch your rear on the bench. If it’s too low raise it just a bit, but make sure you’re not raising it too much. You want to challenge your squat range of motion (ROM). As you improve you can steadily lower the height of the object to squat lower and lower.
2. Mobilize your hips: One common reason for poor squat movement is due to tight hips, particularly at the groin. Your adductors (groin and inner thigh) can be stubborn muscles and these muscles are typically very tight in most people because of lifestyle demands in today’s society with the abundance of sitting. Sitting at work in a cubicle, sitting in your car, and sitting at home binge watching Netflix will cause your adductors to be tight and restrictive. You need these muscles to be unrestrictive to perform good squats. Perform the saddle stretch for a couple minutes to help this.
3. Mobilize your ankles: Another reason you may struggle to perform the squat movement to a good depth could be because of your lack of ankle mobility. If you can’t dorsiflex your ankle (think pointing your foot up towards the sky like when you let off the gas pedal in your car when driving) then you’re not going to be able to squat to full depth. To resolve this stand up with your feet together. Next, slide one foot slightly behind you staggering your stance. Now with the staggered foot bend at your knee lowering it towards the ground while keeping that foot flat on the ground not allowing your heel to raise off the ground. Hold this stretch for a couple minutes and do the other leg.
Poor Programming That Holds Back Results
This often the culprit behind training plateaus.
If you want build muscle you need to have a plan of attack. I believe the average gym goer walks into the gym and just sort of goes through the motions. Sure they may have an idea of what they want to do that day, but they usually wait until they walk into the gym and just sort of figure it out as they go.
An average gym goer who wants to go beyond average and build on his or her strength and muscle gains has to have a plan—and one that continually generates momentum. But it should also be workable. Patience is needed, too.
While developing overall muscle mass may not be your focus, Schwarzenegger’s advice for developing an effective program that generates lasting momentum can be adapted to any fitness goal or goals you may have.
Trying to push yourself too hard with a grandiose, implausible plan is just as bad as one that’s too minimal.
Perform Functional Exercises That Have a Greater Overall Impact
This means go beyond the limited training format of “arm days”, “leg days”, “back days” and so on. While these can, and do, have their place in the training world, their application is generally more for bodybuilding goals. To develop overall functional strength—everyday strength—you have to work your entire body as a unit.
To do this, you need to perform multi-joint movements which are exercises that involve more than one joint therefore requiring you to use large muscle groups.
Multi-joint exercises will help you to build a foundation of strength faster. The key to going beyond average is making sure you emphasizing getting down the fundamentals of building strength and multi-joint movements are a big part of the fundamentals.
Here’s a little beginner-to-intermediate sample of four training days. Scale the workouts to your current fitness level.
Make sure you study these movements carefully and do your best to make sure your technique is good to achieve optimal results. They’re designed to give you an idea of how to start with effective programming to enhance your strength and muscle gains.
(Note: “Superset” means to perform each round one after the other.)
Perform adequate warm up to get your joints ready for movement
• Push-ups: 3×10
• Inverted rows: 3×10
• Overhead press (with dumbbells): 3×6
• Dumbbell lateral raise: 3×8
• Planks: 4–30 second holds for maximal tension
• Bodyweight squats: 3×20 (quality ROM)
• Bodyweight Step ups: 3×10 (each leg)
• Bodyweight single leg deadlift: 3×8 (each leg)
• Wall sit: 2x 1 minute holds with knees at 90 degrees
• Dumbbell bench press: 4×6 (moderately heavy)
• Inverted rows: 4×6
• Push-ups: 2×10
• Dumbbell lateral raise: 2×8
• Planks: 4–30 second holds for maximal tension
• Goblet squats (dumbbell or kettlebell): 3×10 (focus on quality ROM and technique)
• Bodyweight single leg deadlift: 3×6 (each leg)
• Step ups: 3×6 (use dumbbells, or weighted vest for loading)
• Wall sit: 2x 1 minute holds with knees at 90 degrees
(Check out my 120-Day program advertised above for even more workouts that can really knock you out of your rut!)
To build on muscle and strength you’ve got to have a foundation in place and you’ve got to learn how to train by placing emphasis on your needs more than your wants! The important thing is to stay consistent and smart with your training.
Feel free to also stop by my website, Brandon Richey Fitness for even more ideas to get your training program in gear!
Are you covering all three of these elements in your training?
Which one of these elements of your training do you need to improve on the most?
Post up and share in the comments below.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
SEALgrinderPT coach Brandon Richey is a certified strength and conditioning coach, author, and founder of Brandon Richey Fitness.
He has worked with thousands of athletes over his 17 years of experience, developing fitness training programs for beginners to professional and D-1 level collegiate athletes at the University of Georgia.
He also trains MMA and Muay Thai athletes, both professional and amateur.
QUESTION: Coach, I’ve hit a major training plateau. Help!
ANSWER: Check out this article: 10 Tips to Break Through Training Plateaus.
QUESTION: I’d like to get a weight vest, but I have no idea what a good one to get would be. Do you have some you can recommend?
ANSWER: Yes, check out this article where we review our top ten favorites.